Athletics: The New Asceticism - Reflection #3

Written by:
Michael D. May

Moving Out of My Mind

The athlete in championship form has a quiet place within herself. There is a center that must be known and held. Unless this center is found, the turmoil will destroy us. *

- Joseph Campbell

I am moving.

Moving can be a traumatic act. Apart from the advertising creations of Madison Avenue that wish for us to believe The Adventure of Moving, most of us dont want to go. We like it here in the known, the familiar, the comfortable, the dependable, safe, here at home! We dont want to move. I dont want to move. Moving is scary. I dont want to do it. I like it here.

Yet, sometimes we are overcome by an interior urging, often a gentle nudge and sometimes an overwhelming compulsion, or an external intrusion we have not sought but now cannot avoid forces a move: the flood, the tornado, the fire, the divorce, the bankruptcy, the war, the event that has shattered our comfortable home.

Home is home. Moving is not. We like our nests. We like our familiar safe places. We fundamentally dont like moving. At least let me confess, I dont.

But what happens when we are prompted to leave the home of our attention; our default awareness, the place where we attend our fundamental focus toward life And what if that fundamental place-of-attention happens to be my mind What if this place I have been living is in my head What then

Living is not a matter of ideas about living. **

- Joseph W. Mathews

I am moving out of my mind.

I am moving out of my head.

Yes, I have spent a number of decades there in my head. Yes, my family of origin and the human family at large have all tirelessly worked to get me to understand reality as a lot of things that make sense and to which I can only really connect through the instrument of my mind located somewhere in my head. But what if, now that I am getting old, I have discovered this home to be a lie

I am moving out of my mind.

Thinking has become a disease. ***

The single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. ****

- Eckhart Tolle

The process of moving out of ones head is not easy or fast.

The mainstream human community will certainly not support us in our journey if we choose this path. If we are too vocal about our commitment to this special path, the human community may actively seek to destroy us on the way.

The process of moving out of ones head is not fast especially if one has spent years or decades living there. Just as a huge home can become cluttered with years and years of accumulated possessions and things to which one is attached, the head does not release its occupant easily or without resistance.

The process of moving out of ones head requires persistent practice and perhaps the remainder of a lifetime to accomplish; at least so I am discovering.

Since the first oddball humanoid, the Shaman, the Tribal Medicine Person, the Witch, the Sorcerer, the Mystic in the Woods, the Oracle on the Mountain, the Monk in the Desert, or the Mad Person at the edge of the Village, personally discovered the big lie that human life makes any rational sense whatsoever, others have, from time to time in every generation, crawled out on the ledge of human consciousness and looked over. Some have made the leap!

This may or may not be your day to begin such a journey.

Those who do begin such a journey often do so by rediscovering the fundamentals they may have neglected to notice for decades or a lifetime.

One such fundamental is breath.

The newborn babys first lesson in this world often begins with a sharp whap on the butt....eliciting..the first breath!

At that special moment, I believe most of us get it right. We immediately begin practicingattention to the breath and appreciating the deep center to which this focus delivers us. Ahhh..but then comes the instruction from the human community and promptly we are confused with where to focus and identify Am I my fingers Am I my toes Am I my nose Am I whatever name is written on the birth certificate and by which those around keep calling me This is only the beginning of the human familys instruction in helping me to identify with lots and lots of things that make sense; especially my own seemingly unique personality!

The end goal of this instruction is for me to properly identify with whatever we mean by the mind and all of the stuff happening in a brain located in my head.

For those radicals in every generation who have found their solitary path out of the head, the breath is often a starting point. The ascetic and the yogi have long modeled this practice. Today many athletes are also discovering this special path, at least as it pertains to their specific sporting engagement. For the ascetic or the athlete, attention upon the breath can serve as a guide into the deep center of ones being. The distractions of reflection and anticipation disappear as breathing occurs only in the present tense; only in this now moment.

Athletes in movement sports understand the principle of lowering ones attention closer to the center of gravity. This principle has to do with dropping ones attention closer to the physical center of the body, the core, from which all balance and play actually emanates. To be caught in ones head is to be caught in ones head, and therefore, unbalanced.

Part of the aging problem in contemporary society is that of balance. Balance is a problem because we have spent a lifetime in the practice of dwelling in the most imbalanced place possible at the end of the fulcrum of our bodies: the head. Were we to practice centering in our center, closer to our actual center of gravity, perhaps the issue of balance would not be such a contradiction in the aging process.

Our attention focuses and rests wherever we intend it within the vessel of our physical body. We may or may not choose to be conscious of this truth. When I was a child my father would instruct me to lift with my legs in order to avoid injury to my lower back. In this elementary example I was learning to shift the focus of my attention from one area of my body to another. While shaving, try thinking about the process and what is occurring and where it is occurring. Blood is almost guaranteed! Attention must be deposited elsewhere to experience a bloodless shave.

The truth principle applies: Where attention goes, energy flows.

First, establish the breath!

The mind and emotions are both servants of a deeper place. The breath can deliver us there.

The breath is the physical foundation for managing an intentional interior life and can deliver us out of the places of unbalance: the head and the heart.

The breath.the breath..the breaththis is the key. Focus here!

Throughout history, the great ascetic masters have invited us to journey to a special place.a connecting point.a gateway, a portal, located within the physical body. It is only in this deep place clarity beyond the rational can occur. This is not a clarity of the head or the heart, both of which deliver us into a swamp of conflicting thoughts and feelings; a labyrinth of un-clarity from which there is no escape.

The ascetic master invites us to explore the Deep Place. What it means to go deep is literally to descend within the mysterious chamber we know as the human body to discover this connecting point.

When a storm comes, it stays for some time, and then it goes. An emotion is like that tooit comes and stays for a while, and then it goes. An emotion is only an emotion. We dont die because of one emotion. We are much, much more than an emotion. So when you notice that an emotion is beginning to come up, it is very important that you put yourself in a stable sitting position, or you lie down, which is also a very stable position. Then focus your attention on your belly. Your head is like the top of a tree in a storm. I would not stay there. Bring your attention down to the trunk of the tree, where there is stability.

When you have focused on your belly, bring your attention down to the level just below the navel and begin to practice mindful breathing. Breathing in and breathing out deeply, be aware of the rise and fall of the abdomen. After practicing like this for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, you will see that you are strongstrong enough to withstand the storm. In this sitting or lying position, just stick to your breathing the way that someone on the ocean would stick to a life vest. After some time the emotion will go away. ***** - Thich Nhat Hanh

Every athletic playing field, every court of sports competition, every track and road and pool containing the race represents a very real battle; a palpable storm. We are attracted to athletics as participants and as spectators because these activities represent the storm of real life we each encounter every day. These activities call to us to explore a path the ascetics have practiced choosing again and again, and through their example, call us to do likewise.

But, why practice the art of handling a storm

Why attempt to grasp the relationship between the mind, the heart, the body, and The Deep Place known to mystics and ascetics and to me if I choose to follow

Why leave the comfort of a home in my head where the world makes perfect sense

Why not keep my head up my ass

I am moving.


* Campbell, Joseph, Moyers, Bill. The Power of Myth. New York, NY: Broadway Books/Random House, 1988: xviii.

** Mathews, Joseph W., Teaching the Question of God Lecture, Ecumenical Institute, Chicago,

IL, 1964

*** Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of NOW, New World Library, Novato, CA, 1999, p 13.

**** Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of NOW, New World Library, Novato, CA, 1999, p 17.

***** Hanh, Thich Nhat, Selections from a talk given at the State of Maryland Correctional Institution

(circa 2002)


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